The last time I attended Otakon was in 2006. I had only gone there once before, the previous year. By that second time, I was already pretty familiar with the layout of the convention center, knew where to find food around the area, and had a good overall feeling for the environment and the people. Sure, it smelled like a hamster cage, the people I was with avoided the fuck out of me despite being supposedly friends, and I still can't discern whose autograph I got next to Monica Rial's (Antimere Robinson, I think) on that Fullmetal Alchemist poster. But hey, I benefitted from some great anime DVD deals, watched the Elric brothers take on damn nazzis, and devoured Krispie Kreme doughnuts every damn morning.
Con guests included Hellsing creator Kouta Hirano, animator Hirotsugu Kawasaki, character designer Nobuteru Yuki, voice actors Patrick Seitz, Yuri Lowenthal, Monica Rial, Colleen Clinkenbeard, Troy Baker, Christine Auten, and musical guests like Nana Kitade and MUCC. However, I paid little attention to autograph sessions, which I now deeply regret.
22,302 sweaty otaku descended onto the Baltimore Convention Center in the dead of summer, harrassed by drunks and street preachers, gouged for food and water, to hear that ADV licensed Nerima Daikon Brothers and wonder who had licensed The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Geneon was still around, people still cared about the Anime Network, people still bought Mythwear shoulder bags, and Mr. Popo plushes were being sold next to Japanese copies of One Piece video games (I bought one... that is, I bought a Popo plush).
Well, years have passed since I've been to Otakon. Six long years. Six long years of missing out on guests like Steven Blum, Aaron Dismuke, Tomokazu Seki, Laura Bailey, Richard Epcar, Tony Oliver, Kappei Yamaguchi, JAM Project, Crispin Freeman, Mary Elizabeth McGylnn, Fred Schodt, Travis Willingham, Noboru Ishiguro, Todd Haberkorn, Jerry Jewell, Masashi Ishihama, among others. Six years of watching recordings of Otakon panels on YouTube and keeping track of license announcements soley via ANN. Well, I told myself, this year would be different. This year I would attend Otakon and indulge in anime screenings, merchandise hunting, and autograph collecting, surrounded by likeminded individuals who shared my love for this crazy stuff we call anime.
I sure picked a great year to return.
Let's look at the guest list. Well, if you're a big fan of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Otakon is great this year. Several of the guests are people involved with the show. For one, the screenplay writer, Gen Urobuchi. Then there's Ai Naoka, the Japanese voice of character Kyoko Sakura. Then there's Laura Landa, the English voice of Kyoko Sakura, Christine Marie Cabanos, the English voice of Madoka Kaname, and Sarah Williams, the English voice of Sayaka Miki. That's five guests related to Madoka Magica. Which is swell if you're into that show. I am not. But I understand why they've been invited. The show was the most popular anime show in 2011. It's almost stupid not to represent it. But five guests? And fine, each of them has done other things aside from this show, but frankly, not a whole lot to get excited about. Still, like I said, I understand. These guests do not bother me. Much.
But then there's Peter S. Beagle. Beagle wrote the fantasy novel The Last Unicorn in 1969 and the screenplay for the (well-received) animated version that came out in 1982. How is this guy related to anime? Well, the animated version's animation was done by Topcraft, a Japanese animation studio that did Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind (yes, it was them, Ghibli hadn't been formed yet) and co-produced with Rankin/Bass for a few movies. Apparently, a "renovation" of the film is in the works and Beagle wants to show off. Beagle has been a guest to Otakon before, but come on, he's barely related to anime, and he's certainly not a very relevant anime guest in the big picture. Are you telling me that instead of getting a guest the caliber of a Crispin Freeman or a Seiji Mizushima, they chose a guy who hasn't been relevant since the 80s and whose work is sort of just a footnote, a curiosity, more than anything? Give me a fucking break. Peter S. Beagle. Gee, I don't see any autograph sessions, how will I live without having my copy of the script for the "Sarek" episode of ST: TNG signed? Why even advertise this guy on the Otakon site? Is their any demand at all for him? Is somebody at home going, "Oh boy, I can't wait for one-hit-wonder Peter S. Beagle to wow me with a retread of a 30 year old movie nobody talks about anymore." When was the last time you even heard a conversation about The Last Unicorn?
All right. Fine. I can grudgingly accept the presence of fucking Peter S. Beagle. Okay, maybe not accept, I totally resent his presence and the effort to get him back to Otakon, but it doesn't ruin the con for me. And hey, you can reason that he has more reason being here than the Avatar: The Last Airbender fan panel (which, by the way, is cosplayers running a panel in-character as Aang and the gang... so, really looking forward to that gem). Still makes me scratch my head, though. Peter S. Beagle. Who's looking for him, aside from Jim Vowles? Well, maybe somebody is. But not me.
Then there's GASHICON, fashion designer, creator of the "character brand" hANGRY&ANGRY, part of the h.NAOTO brand. Yeah. A fucking fashion designer is coming to Otakon. Somebody fucking call Nicole Miller, we've got room for another guest! Okay, hANGRY&ANGRY is anime-ish. They're cute little anime-ish mascot characters you could mistake as being relevant to the convention. Especially when you look at the very cosplay-ish h.NAOTO brand of clothing. Very gothic lolita. But let's face it, GASHICON is a fashion designer, not a manga author, animator, or voice actress. She designs clothing, not anime. Is this the best Otakon can do? Once again I have to ask, where is the demand for this guest? Are there a lot of GASHICON fans I've never heard of? I tell you, I have to plead ignorance on this. I had no idea so many people gave a shit about a fashion designer. I'm pretty sure they could have instead gotten somebody more closely related to anime. GASHICON is a pretty pitiful guest for an anime convention. That's like getting Manolo Blahnik.
But wait, there's more! Otakon 2012 is proud to host Jason David Frank, the original Green Ranger from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. All right, MMPR is a reworking of Japanese sentai, and there's a lot of crossover with anime fandom and sentai show fandom. But uh, it's reaching. I don't doubt that Jason David Frank was readily available for this convention. I mean, I know he's got that MMA thing going for him, and then there's all those "films" he "stars" in, that screen in dark alleys in third world countries and are available nowhere on DVD, but I don't think he was all that busy, and I'm pretty sure I could hire the guy to come to my birthday and sing "Surrey With the Fringe On Top" (one's like snow... the other's more like... millllllk) while gargling sulfuric acid. Once again, his relevance to anime or anime fandom is tenuous at best, but at least there might be some demand, some interest, in meeting him and/or getting his autograph. (On second thought, please don't murder me, Mr. Frank, the Green Ranger was always my favorite... well, the Dragon Zord was.)
Shin Sasaki is a guy Otakon bills as "Director", and connects him with the Gundam franchise. But to be frank, he's not really the kind of guest you want at an anime convention. He was the producer of Gundam 00 and Gundam AGE and did publicity for SEED Destiny. And what stunning programs those all were. I'm not saying Otakon should have gotten Yoshiyuki Tomino (though that would be awesome), but Shin Sasaki? Do people get excited for publicity people? They couldn't get AGE director Susumu Yamaguchi? Or maybe somebody from the Japanese staff or cast of Gundam Unicorn? Well, okay, Tetsuya Kakihara, but let's face it, Angelo Sauper is such a nonentity after the first couple of episodes of that. They're trotting out Sasaki, Kakihara, and Michale Sinterniklaas for their special Gundam singing session, but they're all such small players. No Kazuhiro Furuhashi? No Kouki Uchiyama or Daisuke Namikawa? Not even a Keith Silverstein or Yuri Lowenthal? Shin Sasaki? Who the fuck is asking for this guy? Nobody. If this is the best they can do for a Gundam guest, I'm not impressed. They should have got somebody else from Gundam or from some other property. It's bad enough Japanese staff get so little attention at these cons, but they have to pick a guy who nobody in Japan would even care about? I'd like to know who is aching to ask Shin Sasaki a question about Gundam AGE.
Oh, and don't forget Hidetaka Tenjini, known for... model box covers, DVD covers, and art books for shows he never worked on. So, essentially, a glorified fan artist. Not that I mind fan artists, but inviting one as a guest for a con? That doesn't fly. They couldn't get a real character designer, like Toshihiro Kawamoto or Yoshiyuki Sadamoto? Or a real mechanical designer like Shoji Kawamori? The best they could do is the guy who designs the DVD covers? Hey, how about the guy who presses the DVDs? Or the person who does the text for the back cover extras listings? Couldn't get the guy who buys office supplies for Studio Nue? How about the person who works on the air conditioning for Sunrise? Relevance, people.
I'm not even thrilled by some of the other VAs. Sure, J. Michael Tatum, Brina Palencia, and Tina Nishimura are fine VAs. I have nothing against them, other than Palencia's terrible Nina Tucker. But they're not exactly the "A Game" of any dub studio. Not a lot of starring roles between them. Palencia was great in Summer Wars, but other than that and a few secondary characters, has she ever really blown anyone away or been the breakout performance in a show? Anime Expo had Steven Blum! Monica Rial! Ryo Horikawa! Kyle Hebert! We get the cast of Black Butler and the woman who plays the Canon Sue in Rebuild of Evangelion 2.0. Whopee. They get questions sessions, too. What exactly do you have to ask Brina Palencia? Do you have any burning questions for the guy who plays Isaac in Baccano? These are not exactly Wendee Lee/Colleen Clinkenbeard/Mary Elizabeth McGlynn-caliber VAs. Even Sinterniklaas, who not only is Dean Venture, but actually founded NYAV Post, is confined to a special Gundam signing, and frankly isn't as ubiquitous as some other VAs. I wouldn't say any of these people are bottom-tier VAs. I'm particularly looking forward to getting my Gurren Lagann DVD set signed by Tetsuya Kakihara and will probably still get Palencia and Tatum to sign my Summer Wars Blu-Ray. But Yuuka Nanri? Who cares?
Oh yeah, and Brina Palencia also has a performance art thing going for her, she plays a character named Kagura4221973, which according to Otakon is a "beloved online personality". Beloved by who? Brina, please, leave the unpleasant business of being Tracey Ullman to Tracey Ullman. We get it, your so funny and witty with your otaku parody character. But leave it at home.
Anime Expo had Yuki Kajiura. Last year, Otakon had Makoto Shinkai and Noboru Ishiguro. This year? A Power Ranger, a fashion designer, a washed up fantasy writer, and the cast of a show I have no interest in. Okay, it's a bit arrogant to expect Otakon to cater only to my personal tastes, but some of these people aren't even anime related! A fucking fashion designer, guys? Really? Do you know how many voice actors you probably could have got instead?
And don't get me wrong. I appreciate Masao Maruyama's attendance. Studio Madhouse is a great animation studio and has produced great anime titles like Summer Wars, Trigun, Death Note, Monster, Redline, and others. Having its founder at Otakon is a treat. But the man has come to Otakon twelve times. Is there anything left for him to say? Are there any more questions to ask him? I guess since Madhouse continues to produce anime, there might be, but every year? They couldn't get the head of another studio?
What about getting somebody from Mawaru Penguindrum? What about getting somebody from the new Lupin III series? Shit, I'll settle for somebody from Polar Bear Cafe. I love that show. What about a manga artist/author? That con in France got Naoki Urasawa, my favorite manga author. They couldn't even get Filipe Smith? It shows a lack of effort on Otakorp's part.
All is not lost, however. Maybe she's overexposed, maybe she's overrated, maybe she's even somewhat disliked now that people have discovered she has the nerve to have a sex life, but I am geniunely excited that singer and voice actress Aya Hirano is a guest at Otakon. I think she's just adorable. I don't normally get swept up in J-Pop idols or "personalities", but I love Hirano. She's a good singer, she's a good voice actress, and she just has a gravity to her that pulls me in. It's kind of funny that somebody as cynical and misanthropic as me can be excited to see a bubbly J-pop star. Hopefully I can stick around long enough on Sunday to see her concert and maybe get an autograph.
So, overall, not too excited about the guests. But hey, there are panels! The panels will be great!
On Friday, I might check out the "Dubstep in Japan" panel! Then I'll check out "A First-Timer's Guide to Sewing" and "Angels in Anime" later on! Or should I go to the "Chubby Characters of Anime and Manga"? Saturday brings the "Cooking up Anime Style" panel, "Japanese PVC Figures and Collecting", and the Trina Nishimura Q&A. If nothing, I can't miss the Avatar: The Last Airbender panel, where the characters themselves (fans dressed in cosplay) talk about the show! I hope to get up early enough on Sunday to enjoy the "Pokéholics Anonymous" panel, even if it runs into the "Geneon, a Funimation Retrospective" panel.
But, to be serious, there are panels I'm looking forward to. On Friday, I'll see Justin Sevakis at the Anime News Network panel (sure he's looking forward to my attendance), the Sailor Moon panel (yes, the Sailor Moon panel), and probably the Toonami panel. I'm not sure if I'll make it to Daryl Surat's "Anime's Craziest Deaths" late at night. It's past my bedtime, you see. I'm hoping that on Saturday the Aya Hirano Q&A doesn't turn into a giant "slut shaming" session from the audience. Seriously folks, she has a sex life, get over it. The Funimation industry panel should be interesting (hoping for Mawaru Penguindrum license announcement, maybe some more Dragon Boxes). However, I'll be missing Mike Toole's "The Worst Anime of All Time" panel, which sucks, because I'll also be missing his "Dubs that Time Forgot" to attend Daryl Surat's Lupin III panel at night. I'm not sure I care for any of the panels on Sunday, though. That's a day I'll concentrate on the dealer's room. And Aya Hirano.
And don't forget those anime screenings! I haven't seen The Secret World of Arietty yet, which English dub are they using. Kind of weird that they're only playing the first episode of GTO (why does one episode take an hour to air?). I never made it past the third episode of Occult Academy, maybe I'll make it to the fourth this time around. Also, Otakon is playing both the Bardock and Trunks DBZ TV specials in Japanese with English subtitles. I get a certain smug satisfaction from that. Enjoy the Kikuchi music, Dream Theater fans. No "Through Her Eyes" for you (it's a nice song, though). Oooh, Galaxy Express and Adeiu Galaxy Express. Neat. And the Gundam Unicorn episode 5 screening is a must for me. I wish they would do some sort of premiere. Is A Letter From Momo ready yet? I'm taking pictures of anyone who attends the Eureka Seven movie screening to shame them publically.
Of course, what trip to Otakon would be complete without going to the Dealer's Room? Already represented is Funimation, Aniplex/Bandai Visual, Section 23, YesAnime, Crunchyroll, Media Blasters (they're still around?), Geek Chic, DeleterUSA, Bluefin, Morinaga, Onmyodo, and Kinokuniya. And I'm sure the other two hundred or so tables will be full of anime retailers and specialty stores. The dealer's room is my kryptonite at these cons. I spend most of my time in there. Watching. Searching. Hunting for... well, hunting for crap. Gunpla, figures, pencil boards, posters, t-shirts, DVDs, plushies, keychains, stationary, soundtracks, knick nacks, patty wacks, give a dog a bone, this dumb guy is broke at home. No doubt I will buy at least $150 dollars of shit I do not need, do not really want (except in the moment), can get cheaper elsewhere, and will regret buying later. It's going to happen. No matter what. It doesn't matter that I know it will happen. Knowledge of that will not shield me. It will happen.
I will be home late Sunday, sit down to recover from the convention, and something will catch my eye. I will look down, or up, or around, and I will see a Panty & Stocking With Garterbelt pencil case, an $80 PVC figure of Penguin 1 from Mawaru Penguindrum, and a Dragon Ball Z bath towel, and I will ask myself, "Do I own these things? Did I actually buy this shit? Couldn't I have spent 100 dollars on something worthwhile?" And I will also ask, "Where am I going to put all this crap?" And I will finally ask, "Why did I even go to Otakon? That shit shakes me down for 200+ bucks to walk around in the 100 degree heat with people who don't shower, eat food that will kill me, stand in lines for several hours to get autographs from nobodies, watch anime I've already seen with noisy bastards, and buy things nobody ever should have made, just because I'm a sentimental hoarder."
And when somebody asks, "Did you have a good time?" I will answer, "It was awesome."
See you there!